by Cathy Cruise
This was not some weird-ass TV show. It was no sci-fi movie either. I opened up the back door and there were hummingbirds. Diving all around, their little straw beaks poking into the air, their wings beating fast as rotor blades. Faster.
‘Close it!’ my wife yelled. And I tried, but too late. One of them got into the house. It was blue, bright as a cornflower, and zapped around the kitchen, bashing into walls and falling, then buzzing up again and slamming into the ceiling, knocking little bits of popcorn stipple onto the floor. It sounded like a high-powered fan. A squeaky one.
‘What the…?’ Becky said. ‘Why’d you let it in?’
‘Well now, I don’t know!’ I was mad as shit. ‘Thought we’d stir things up around here.’ We’d been fighting all day and now this.
She grabbed a newspaper off the table. There was a stack of them there anyway, like they were on display or something. Boxes too, plastic bags shoved inside other plastic bags, torn envelopes, empty Coke bottles. As if a table were for junk and not meals. I can’t remember the last meal we ate together.
Becky grabbed a newspaper and rolled it up like a log, then started swatting at the thing.
‘What are you doing?’ I said. I think I said it, but she’d say I yelled it. Whatever.
‘What are you doing? Shut the door! You’ll let in another!’ She swung the paper through the air. The bird rose and beat its wings against the top of the window at the sink. Becky was nowhere close to it.
‘It’s not a fly,’ I said. ‘It’s a fucking bird.’
‘So? Somebody has to do something.’
She says this like she’s a princess. A queen. Like she’s in charge because I’m this imbecile, this idiot who doesn’t know how to fix one blessed thing, make one thing right.
I had my hand around the doorknob. I could have easily shut it. But I got hypnotized, kind of, looking out at the sky again. They were everywhere, all around. Flying like bats, but not really, because they stopped and would sit right on the air, waiting, and then shoot straight off again, into the yard, down the street, into the sticky, hot as blazes evening.
I turned back around just in time to see the bird nosedive. It flew right at Becky’s head. It got caught in that nest of red hair for a few seconds, that crazy squeaking noise coming to a screech, before it untangled itself and then zipped out the door.
Becky was yowling, flailing around, smacking at her head. It was funny, kind of. It would have been funny, maybe five years ago, before things got like this.
‘For God’s sake, John!’ she said. And then she started crying. Like always. Like I needed more on top of the rage. Like I needed the tears too.
I looked out the door again, but the birds were gone. All of them. It was just our ordinary back yard, with the rusted clothesline and the falling-down shed, the green refrigerator we’d hauled out of the kitchen three years ago still laying there on its side, dead looking in the evening light.
I hated that the birds were gone. I hated everything I saw in that one minute there. And everything I didn’t see.
‘John?’ Becky’s voice was behind me, all high, all soft and thin now. ‘John, don’t you even care? Don’t you care about anything?’
It was dark enough now that the yard and trees were black, but the sky above was lit a bright silver. I looked hard, but it was so quiet and empty, not even a star, not a cloud. I held onto the doorknob until the metal was slick in my hand, still searching, hoping. I knew I’d have to close it eventually.
Cathy Cruise has published work in American Fiction, Vestal Review, Pithead Chapel, Appalachian Heritage, Michigan Quarterly Review, and other journals. She received a New Rivers Press American Fiction prize and a Washington Independent Writers Award for Short Fiction. Her first novel, A Hundred Weddings, was a 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist and a ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Prize semifinalist. She works as a writer and editor in Virginia where she lives with her family.